Today I’m excited to welcome young adult fantasy and horror writer Rin Chupeco! She is the author of The Girl from the Well and its sequel, The Suffering. The Bone Witch, her latest novel and the first book in a new series, was just released in March (and has one of the most striking covers I’ve seen lately!). You can read more about The Bone Witch, including a sample from the book, on her website and you can also follow her on Twitter.
I was always the tomboy of the family. My younger sister was tall, pretty, and enjoyed fashion and other girly things. My earliest memories of play involved invading her Barbie dollhouse with various Ninja Turtle and Ghostbuster action figures and declaring hostile takeovers. I wore baggy pants and oversized shirts for irony. I didn’t pay attention to what I wore so long as it was comfy.
That changed as I grew older. I played basketball and took up taekwondo and arnis. I also started wearing skirts and dresses, and fell in love with mascara. I love long dresses and dangling earrings. I enjoyed watching wrestling and had a Boyzone phase. I have a small obsession with kimono. I didn’t have to let go of my “tomboyish” tendencies to be more feminine, and I never felt like I had to give one up in order to become the other.
And that’s why I feel it’s about time we need to retire all these definitions of “strong” heroine, or at least change people’s perspectives of what it should mean. All too often “strong” is associated with girls who exhibit generally masculine characteristics: girls who dress like boys and fight like boys.
What’s so wrong about fighting like a girl? Femininity doesn’t have to take a backseat if it’s about heroines kicking ass.
I wrote Tea, my protagonist from The Bone Witch, with this in mind. Tea is exceedingly feminine. She likes pretty things, fancy dresses, and dancing. That doesn’t stop her from embracing her taboo abilities of summoning and controlling the dead, from learning to fight with a sword, and from being a rebellious teenager constantly trying to push back at a society that wants her to conform. She’s also extremely stubborn, more than willing to push against the boundaries set in place by the society of asha that she finds herself living in. As the only healthy bone witch left in the land, Tea is frequently forgiven for reckless behavior that any other asha would have been severely punished for. Rather than striving to meet them halfway, Tea often responds by pushing back harder in her desire to explore the fullest extent of her abilities beyond the safety restrictions set in place by bone witches before her. One could argue that her complete disregard for the rules is the very reason Tea finds herself an exile at the start of the novel. But what other asha consider a serious flaw is actually what makes her compelling—bone witches do not live long, and it is that fear of dying that motivates her to seek out other alternatives beyond the fate other asha have determined for her.
Just as important as a feminine kick-ass heroine is also a flawed kick-ass heroine, which might not be as rare, but is more commonly disliked. There’s still a general fear that all characters in teen novels must be perfect with as little fault as possible, perhaps to serve as a role model for girls to look up to.
I wasn’t a juvenile delinquent as a teenager, but I had my dumb moments. I never got into trouble with the law, but I’ve made a lot of bad decisions, a few of them rather publicly and rather stupidly. I’ve never met a perfect teenager—heck, I’ve never met a perfect adult. It’s important to write about girls who might have impressive and noteworthy traits, but nonetheless have stupid crushes and get into inappropriate situations and make choices you know they’re going to regret later on. It’s very important for girls to read stories about girls who aren’t perfect.
Flawed heroines in fiction can be and are interesting—Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once said that well-behaved women seldom make history. Scarlett O’Hara was selfish and rather foolish at times, but that’s part of what made her such a compelling character. She is exceptionally intense and passionate, and throws all of herself into every project she endeavors to scheme at, and you come away with the impression that for all her faults, she believes wholeheartedly in what she does, even if you don’t agree with her. Frieda from Only Ever Yours responds to her inability to dictate her life in a dystopian boarding school by embracing it; she was, after all, raised in a misogynistic society where girls are bred solely to reproduce and pander to men—so what’s everyone else’s excuse? And people like Gossip Girl‘s Blair Waldorf exist to remind us that happy endings are never straight lines. Sometimes it takes fighting for social dominance against your rival/best friend, sleeping with said best friend’s boyfriend, bulimia, and learning to stay true to yourself in the face of peer pressure, even if being true to yourself means going against the crowd.
Write girls who can be brave, but who sometimes aren’t. Write girls who fall in love with the wrong boys, and write how those relationships aren’t the sum of who they are. Write girls who won’t let the occasional bloodshed get in the way of an exquisitely made dress. Female protagonists are constantly reaching for the moon, but crashing and burning makes them even more heroic if they can find the courage to stand up and dust themselves off. Bouncing back from tragedies and mistakes is what makes them strong, no matter their flaws. There is no formula for writing girls like these, and it can be a harder road than most—but when has writing ever been an easy path?
|Rin Chupeco wrote obscure manuals for complicated computer programs, talked people out of their money at event shows, and did many other terrible things. She now writes about ghosts and fairy tales but is still sometimes mistaken for a revenant. She wrote The Girl from the Well, its sequel, The Suffering, and The Bone Witch, the first book of a new YA Fantasy trilogy. Find her at rinchupeco.com.|